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Connecting communities: 10 things we’ve learned through Q

Liz Twelves, Q member and Management Consultant at Twello, shares what's being learnt through Q in the North-West coast

Q landed in the North-West Coast around twelve months ago, when the Innovation Agency welcomed over 100 eager recruits with a deep passion for improvement. Over this time, I have been gently facilitating our Q members, trying to connect more of the network to itself. It’s been a fantastic opportunity, experimenting with what we can do to support Q nationally and on a smaller footprint.

Q Liberating Structures Workshop 2018

So, what have we learned so far?

  1. Q is what you make of it. There are so many fantastic possibilities to develop your own improvement practice or address the themes or issues that matter to you, your team or your organisation.
  2. The diversity of Q is powerful. Connecting with people with different perspectives is critical to the scale of improvement we need in public services.
  3. Creating varied ways to connect and learn is important. Time is precious. It’s difficult for people to get away from their work. We have offered three things to our local Q members to enhance the diverse national offer: a brief email update supplying some shortcuts to useful information, a closed Facebook page (27 members and counting!) and a series of Learning Exchanges.
  4. Embrace new ways of working. Q introduced us to Liberating Structures – 33 different ways to organise interactions and group working. As an experienced facilitator, I’ve been surprised how these have started to permeate much of what I do, and we’ve used them in each of our Learning Exchanges. They strengthen participation, reduce the power differential in the room and speed up the process of problem solving and getting to action. QI methods can be a great way of making a difference, but for me, Liberating Structures fill a gap around people and group processes that can really enhance results.
  5. People will come but be realistic. People want to take part in activities. We’ve had quite a lot of drop-outs on the day, but we’ve also had different people each time.
  6. Ask for help. People are incredibly generous when you’re part of a community. I developed a systems thinking session with the help of two Q members who I would never have worked with otherwise.
  7. Find out what people want. Our Learning Exchange on leadership for cultures of innovation used the Kings Fund’s fantastically practical work Caring to Change. The session was built using a string of Liberating Structures to explore the nature of compassion and how our own personal practice of compassion can support good team climate and innovation. But the real value in this session came from co-coaching around real-life leadership challenges, and if we’d asked at the start, we could have done more of that.
  8. Systems thinking sparks the imagination! One of our best-attended Learning Exchanges was on systems thinking, and three concepts in particular: structure, distinctions and mental models. The systems iceberg was perhaps the most popular model that day, helping to give different perspectives on some of the messy problems we are tackling (one focus was the urgent care system), particularly when we start to understand the different mental models at play in the design and improvement of our systems. It is these beliefs and values that really shape our structures, processes and the patterns that emerge in our systems.
  9. Failure is inevitable. But its more valuable when we feel safe to fail. Our visit from the Museum of Failure to the North West led us to explore the role of psychologically safety in creating a place where innovation can thrive.
  10. Connecting communities enriches learning. We have brought the Innovation Agency Scouts and Q members together. Not only does this strengthen our capacity for improvement, it makes better use of people’s time and resources.

So, where does this leave us?

Firstly, I need to go back to our Q members to find out if they would like anything more or different. I have noticed too from the Q Exchange process how much creative improvement work is going on in small groups locally. I wonder if there is something more we can build on here?

… it’s not just about what Q is doing now. Strong connections serve our public services well for the future.

Secondly, I have learnt that creating spaces to connect and learn outside the formal system remains important, and designed the right way, can enable like-minded strangers to be open, generous and support each other unconditionally.

Remember too, it’s not just about what Q is doing now. Strong connections serve our public services well for the future. They help us learn and get things done that matter. They serve us well if made well. What 15 percent can you do to connect more?

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